Monday, 23 March 2009

Holy Disorder

Twenty years ago this spring I was trying to sort out the various formalities for getting a visa to go the German Democratic Republic to study theology for a year.
In the end it all worked out well and I arrived in Wittenberg in early September 1989. Even today when I mention I studied theology in the GDR many people look very puzzled and ask whether that was really possible.
I lived through world changing events and experienced churches fuller than at any revival meeting. Early on in the demonstrations I also felt real fear about how things would develop. It is quite an experience to stand up in church to lead prayers and face a dozen secret police sitting on the first row.
It was the first and only time in my life that I kept a diary. One of the things I must try and do this year is transcribe some of what I wrote then.
The churches in central Germany are marking the 20th anniversary of the process leading the fall of the Berlin wall with a series of events called "Gesegnete Unruhe"- Holy Disorder. You can even send Holy disorder e-postcards to raise awareness of the anniversary and the events.
This was the revolution of candles, Psalms and Taizé songs, it was the revolution of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. You can read an interview with the year's coordinator Ralf-Uwe Beck in which he talks both about ordinary household candles as an important symbol but also about how marking the anniversary is important for people in the region today, a way to encourage people's self-confidence and faith - look at what we managed to do together 20 years ago.
When I finished my year in the GDR and went back the UK I wondered whether I would ever again experience the Bible having such immediate personal and political resonance. I grieved for that short-lived time when faith and life and action somehow seemed to dovetail. By the time I got back to the UK the country I had just lived in for a year was about to no longer exist.
"What is past is not dead, it is not even past. We cut ourselves off from it, we pretend to be strangers." is how Christa Wolf begins her book A Model Childhood. Many people from the former GDR have lived through that - a sort of wiping out of their experience. For a while in conversations with West-German friends I felt I had become a sort of honorary "Ossi".
Today this well-known quote from L.P. Hartley also resonates, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
It may be a foreign country but as the year advances and particularly as the autumn approaches I intend to go to that foreign country and revisit some of what I lived through in that time of Holy Disorder.

1 Comment:

janetlees said...

thanks for blogging about your experience of those momentous times. Being present during such events can have a marked effect on us. This April marks 15 years since the transition to democracy in South Africa, during which time were lived and worked in Natal with the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa. It made a huge impact on me. I especially remember the events of Holy Week those 15 years ago. A significant example of Holy Disorder in my own experience.